Kim Potter is the Minneapolis suburb police officer that shot and killed Black motorist Daunte Wayne in April. Following Monday’s close arguments, the jury considered Potter’s fate.
Judge Regina Chu directed that the predominantly White jury would be kept in seclusion during deliberations. Jurors could stay under supervision in an undisclosed place and not return to home until the jury has reached a verdict. If the deliberations are ongoing, it is not clear if jurors will be allowed to take time off Christmas Eve or on the weekend.
A factor that may have played a role in this is the extensive media coverage on the case. This includes social media.
Like previous high-profile cases, this year’s case has prompted a lot discussion on social media. This could prove to be both good and bad. Similar to previous high-profile cases, there have been battle lines drawn across the different platforms where people can voice their opinion.
Social media allows information to be quickly moved in order for society to keep up-to-date on developments in high-profile, real-time crime cases. However, people may only receive a small portion of what happened during the trial, rather than the whole picture,” Dr. Debbie Goodman from St. Thomas University, Professor of Criminology, explained via email.
This may permit opinions to be formed quickly but it might not always have consistency and continuity in information, she said.
But social media can provide greater information than is usually available on television.
“As individuals follow high profile cases they gain interest, knowledge and understanding of the criminal justice system and processes therein,” said Goodman. The public has greater access to relevant information regarding justice system events that may be of interest.
Social Media and the Sixth Amendment
It’s not only casual viewers who can be affected by the information on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. It is possible that jurors might see notifications pop up on their devices from social media. These could expose them to potentially sensitive information, such as trial updates or news about legal matters.
Additionally, because social media has become more popular for spreading misinformation it is likely that it will influence the public’s opinion and even those of potential jurors.
Federal Judiciary officials issued last year a set of new jury instructions. These are intended to dissuade jurors who use social media to communicate or research cases.
When the instructions first appeared, in October 2020 Judge Audrey G. Fleissig chaired the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management. A trial before an impartial jury is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. The evidence and law in a case are the only basis for deciding it. In a world where social media can overwhelm us with information and misinformation, it’s important to remind jurors again and again not to be distracted from their civic duty.”
The new model jury instructions updated those drafted in 2012 when fewer social media platforms existed, and when social media was less universally present in many people’s lives – including potential jurors.
According to the model instructions, “Persons, entities and foreign governments might seek manipulation of your opinions, your impartiality, or your opinion during deliberations.” “You might find popups that contain information on this case and the individuals, laws, or entities involved in it while accessing your emails, social media or internet. This is not your fault. This is a possibility.
As with 2012’s instructions jurors are likely to continue being cautioned to not communicate about cases with others until the case has ended, whether in person or via email, blog, or social media.
The fact remains, however, that few social media users have control over what is trending or even what could show up in their feeds – which could be why it may be necessary for jurors to be increasingly unplugged during high profile trials.